Haiti 2010 Earthquake Response

U.N. troops ignored cries for help

Cries for help from people digging for survivors in collapsed buildings were drowned out by the roar of heavy-duty engines as the [U.N.] troops plowed through Port-au-Prince without stopping to join rescue efforts, much less lead them.

That was just one of many problems with the international response described in today’s article by Reuters. Inadequate organization, supplies and crowd control hampered food distribution.  Staff shortages, bureaucracy and a lack of packing lists slowed delivery of medicines.  MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) delivered by the U.S. were tossed aside by Haitians because tthe meals had no preparation instructions in local languages.  U.S. troops could not explain because few of them spoke French or brought translators.

Critics of the international response include the U.N.’s top humanitarian aid official, John Holmes.

We cannot … wait for the next emergency for these lessons to be learned,” Holmes wrote in a confidential email first published on the website of the journal Foreign Policy.

Previously, criticism of the response came from Italy’s civil defense chief, the French Cooperation Minister, Doctors Without Borders, Brazilian officials and retired U.S. Lt. General Russell Honore.

But, the Obama administration appears determined to portray the response as exemplary, possibly for political reasons.  Reuters reports that Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, “touted the Haiti relief mission as ‘the largest and most successful international search and rescue effort ever assembled in history.'”

At a February 12, State Department press briefing, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, also described the disaster response in glowing terms.

[F]rankly, it’s working really well, and I believe that this will be something that people will be able to look back on in the future as a model for how we’ve been able to sort ourselves out as donors on the ground and responding to an earthquake.

In the question-and-answer period that followed, a reporter offered the ambassador a second chance to be transparent about problems.

Are there things that would have been helpful to you the first day, the first week, the second week? Are there other ways that this could have been handled, perhaps even better?

Ambassador Merten responded, in part, “Those are probably too much of a micro level for you to be interested in.”

But, previously, former president Bill Clinton had acknowledged that relief had been slow.

Former US president Bill Clinton pledged to try to get aid flowing as he was met by angry Haitians protesting the slow arrival of help since last month’s quake.

Clinton said he was sorry that the aid efforts had been so slow, adding he also wanted to understand why more than three weeks after the January 12 quake supplies were still not getting through to desperate Haitians.

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